Gabbidon charge highlights Twitter’s growing influence within football

Danny Gabbidon has been charged with ‘improper conduct and/or bringing the game into disrepute’ after a Twitter tirade following West Ham United’s 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa. Whilst for many the social networking site bridges the gap between celebrity and supporter, Gabbidon’s example highlights the impact of ill-chosen words.

Although Twitter is merely the latest media incarnation to link players to the public, the concept appears to engender an unheralded blithe sense of openness. Twitter affords today’s stars the chance to cut out the middleman and provide damning headlines themselves. Gabbidon duly obliged with his outburst: “U know what, f*** the lot of you, u will never get another tweet from me again, you just don’t get it do you. Bye bye.” True to his word, the Welshman has subsequently closed down his account, but this gesture smacks of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Gabbidon has previous form with the Upton Park faithful after poor punctuation landed him in hot water with the Hammers last season: “Sorry you had to witness that last night West Ham fans need to start showing the dedication that you have & things might start to improve.

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The precedent was set in January when Ryan Babel was reprimanded for criticising the performance of referee Howard Webb in Liverpool’s FA Cup third round defeat to Manchester United. The Dutchman also posted a doctored photograph of the referee wearing a United shirt and was fined £10,000 and warned as to his future conduct. Carlton Cole’s tweet following England’s 1-1 draw with Ghana landed him a £20,000 fine and Gabbidon appears set to suffer a similar fate.

Far from being a story of doom and gloom, studies by market research firm Pear Analytics categorised 40.1% of tweets as ‘pointless babble’ with a further 37.6% classified as ‘conversational.’ The bulk of footballers’ comments fall into these categories as demonstrated by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after his side capitulated against Newcastle earlier this season: “Btw I want to apologise to anyone that bought me to their fantasy football team recently.4 goals and a booking isn’t the best result…

Whilst the majority of football’s tweets fall into these categories, some footballers, knowing that their comments will be related back to the world at large, are becoming savvy to the opportunities arising. Rio Ferdinand used the site to criticise Barcelona’s Pedro in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final: “This diving is a joke/embarrassing. When Pedro watches that do you think he’ll think ‘What was I doing!?’” Anyone who watched the match will doubtless sympathise with his view, yet it is telling that he felt compelled to comment having ignored the frankly similar conduct of some United teammates this term. With an impeding clash with the Catalans, Ferdinand’s comments can be viewed as seeking to apply pressure to the officials ahead of the Wembley showdown.

Whilst Gabbidon’s outburst highlights the rudimentary function of Twitter, comments such as Ferdinand’s may yet herald a new battleground for mind games to be played out as footballers’ experimental Twitter usage evolves.

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